Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Time and Chance - Alan Brernnert

About the book

A classic novel from the bestselling author of Moloka'i and Honolulu

Before Alan Brennert became a bestselling author of historical novels, he wrote this lyrical fantasy in the vein of The Time Traveler’s WifePart love story, part deeply affecting character study, it is a literary tour de force chronicling the parallel lives of two men who were once the same man--until, as the poet Robert Frost wrote, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood/And sorry I could not travel both/And be one traveler...”

Thirteen years ago, Richard Cochrane left his small New England town to pursue his dreams of an acting career. But on some other level of reality there is also a Rick Cochrane, who chose instead to set aside his dreams, marry the woman he loved, and raise a family. Today, neither man is happy with the choice he made--but as their lives, once separated by time and chance, now draw closer together, Richard and Rick are offered another a last chance to discover “the road not taken.”

Time and Chance displays the same vivid sense of time and place--and the vibrant, memorable characters drawn with compassion, warmth, and humor--that have made the author’s historical novels national bestsellers and reading group favorites.

416 pages (paperback)
Published on: July 5, 2011 (first published Dec. 1990)
Published by: Tor
Author’s website

Thanks to Tor for sending me a copy of this book to review.


Time and Chance is another one of those books that I got in the mail at the perfect time. I was in the mood for something a little lighter, a little less dark and a bit different than my normal fare of reads. Luckily, this quick read fit right into what I was looking for. I started in on it the day I received it in the mail, and didn’t put it down until I finished it a day later.

Time and Chance was first published in 1990 and is being republished (is that the right terminology?) on July 5, 2011, by Tor. Brennert has an impressive resume. He is a producer and a screenwriter, as well as an author of numerous books, most notably Moloka’i and Honalulu. He has even won an Emmy Award in 1991. The reason I mention this isn’t to brag on his behalf, but it’s to say that you can really see his theatrical influences in this work. This lends the characters a sense of credibility I would have lacked if the author had obviously researched the terminology and process of acting rather than experienced them first hand.

The main plot of Time and Chance might have been really unique when it was first published, but these days it didn’t strike me as particularly new and fresh. While this is usually a point of complaint for me, with Time and Chance it’s actually a strength of the book. This keeps an easily confusing concept easy to understand, which, in turn, ensures that most readers will fall easily into the plot and follow the characters without spending half the book wondering what is going on. This, combined with the realism I mentioned in the above paragraph, really helps the book take flight.

The premise for this book is based off of a Robert Frost poem, part of which says:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler…

The book is based around the idea of two men, who were; in fact, alter egos living in parallel worlds. These individuals switch lives so the semi-famous actor can experience the life of a family man who married his high school sweetheart, and the other man can experience life as an actor. Parts of the book reminded me a bit of the move Multiplicity, while the back of the book heralds it as reminiscent of the book The Time Traveler’s Wife. Brennert writes the book based on a theme most of us can relate to, the epic “what if” in life. What if I had made this choice, instead of that one…? Thus, the book, while being interesting, is also an intensely personal journey through the lives of the two main characters, as well as the reader themselves.

Brennert is a very talented author. The prose are fairly simple, without too much of a flourish or needless descriptions, but is perfectly balanced by nearly poetic writing that really wraps itself around the reader. The world and characters are realistic, and one can really sense Brennert’s background in portions of this book which help with the realism. Furthermore, Brennert keeps his cast of characters lifelike and doesn’t neatly, or predictably tie of many of the loose ends. Each character faces his own set of decisions and choices, and they deal with it in a purely human way.

However, the plot does get somewhat bogged down and feels rather slow during the early parts of the switch where the two men spend most of their time sorting through each other’s lives. The details are rich and interesting, but there is a myriad of them, which can seem rather redundant. Despite this, the book does pick up pace again after a time, and leads to a satisfactory ending. Time and Chance is intense, but not in the “lets run from the bad guys” sense, it is intense in a much more subtle, personal way and therein lies what is so appealing about it. 

While there are fantasy elements in Time and Chance (the parallel worlds, for example) it's not amazingly oppressive, nor does it it seep into every aspect of the book. This allows Time and Chance to be appealing to fantasy readers, and fiction readers, alike. 

Time and Chance is about the journey rather than the destination. It’s a book filled with conflict, love, tenderness and confusion all propped up by an intense emotional thread that seems to compliment the book well, without ever being overdone. If, at points, the plot did seem to lag, it does pick up and recover, especially during the last third of the book. Time and Chance is an impressive character study, which manages to hook the reader while also forcing them to examine their own lives, and choices.

4/5 stars 

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